Putting It Together: The Brenizer Method

Recently my friend Matthew Turri showed me a new and exciting kind of photo to take using a technique called the Brenizer Method. The Brenizer Method is creating one picture out of multiple photographs but with a shallow depth of field so that your subject is clear while the background is fuzzy and panoramic.

Things you will need:
1. a lens that is 50mm or closer with an f/stop of 3.5 or lower
2. Photoshop CS3 or higher
3. patience
I didn’t get this method to work the first time. Or the second time. The third time it almost worked. The fourth time was spot on, but the fifth run was hit or miss. Basically what I’m saying is it’s ok to mess up and then blog about it so you can share the creations like you’re Dr. Frankenstein showing off his monster dancing to “Putting on the Ritz”.

Before you do anything with your camera, get an idea of what you want ahead of time. That will help you to know how much you want in the photo rather than ending up with more grass than sky, or more to your subject’s left than their right. When you’re photographing, you can do so one of two ways:
1. from left to right and then from right to left from the top of your “canvas” to the bottom
OR
2. photograph your subject from head to toe first and then photograph up and around (like making arches) the subject until you have as much background as you desire.

The second way is great for people, as we have a tendency to fidget rather than stand still for 30 seconds. Plus, you’ll have a more natural expression from them in the beginning where a smile might be more strained the longer they hold it.

As for your camera’s settings, make sure you have a low f-stop. I like to have mine at f/2.8 when I’m using my 17-55mm lens (set above 50mm) or my 70-200mm lens (set at 70mm). I also have my 50mm f/1.4 which is perfect for this method, and great since I don’t get a whole lot of use out of it otherwise. The lower the f-stop, the more striking the effect.

There are two different formats you can photograph in to bring this all together. I have been shooting in small, fine JPEGs which works out well, but some people shoot in RAW. If your computer can handle it, fantastic. RAW will help you with your white balance, but the files are huge. You’ll have to upload them and then turn them into JPEGs so as to not crash Photoshop when you’re merging the photos (I’ll explain later). I haven’t tried shooting in RAW for this particular method yet, so do whatever is most comfortable for you.

Make sure your White Balance is set on ANYTHING BUT AUTO. If  your white balance is on auto, you’re going to get pictures that don’t stitch together properly because the colors are patch-worked. It confuses Photoshop and doesn’t look nice.

Have your subject set up where you want him or her. The closer you are to your subject, the more of a fish-eye effect you’re going to get. If your subject has nowhere to run to, try the method from a variety of distances to see what I mean. You can also check out the pictures I’ve put in this blog. I’ll make notes about what I did and how far away I stood (approximately, I don’t normally carry a tape measure in my pocket). Now use the autofocus to focus on your subject. Done that? Excellent. Turn off your autofocus by putting your camera/lens on manual mode. Crazy, right?  By turning off the autofocus, even if you’re photographing up and around and down and left and right of your subject, you won’t be focused on anything but your subject. Make sure to grab as much of the area as possible. Better to get a few extra pictures than to try to fill in gaping holes left from a file.

Quick note: When you’re photographing up, down, and around, move your camera but not your body. I made that mistake the first time, but didn’t realize til halfway through photographing that I was moving from my torso and not from my hands/neck. It was a forehand-to-head moment. Unfortunately, I deleted that photomerge faster than you can say, “I want to see that train wreck!” At the time, I didn’t think “blog post material”. But don’t worry, I promised you my mistakes, and my mistakes you shall have!

ALSO, because I made this mistake, CHECK YOUR SHUTTER SPEED. I’ll show you why at the bottom of this post. If your shutter speed isn’t fast enough for your Quick Draw McGraw ways, you will get some blurry photos. Blurry photos don’t blend well together. You get a sloppy mess. It’s okay to take your time. Remember the third thing you need to do this? Patience. Trust me on this one.

Now go photograph and come back when you’re done. I’ll wait.

~@~@~@~@~@~@~@~@~

Alright! We have our photos! I’ve had as few as 30 and I’ve had as many as 130. Photoshop runs best when you don’t overload it, so I’d say run about 50 and see how it works out. There are two ways to start the photomerge process:

1.  Open Photoshop. Go to ‘File’, ‘Automate’, and click ‘Photomerge’. From here, you can choose the files you want or the entire folder by browsing and starting the process.
OR
2. Go to your folder, pick out the pictures you want, and open them in Photoshop. From here, go to ‘File’, ‘Automate’, and click ‘Photomerge’, but instead of choosing the files or folders by browsing, you choose ‘Add Open Files’.

I used the second option when I have a whole lot of photos but I only really want to merge a certain object. This method helped me with the photo of the Gourd Table. I had too many pictures and way too big an area I had photographed for the merging, so I went into the folder first and chose the photos of the table rather than the clutter towards the outside.

After you’ve started the photomerging process, get yourself a book, make a cup of tea, or sing songs to yourself. LEAVE YOUR COMPUTER ALONE. It needs all the RAM it can muster to merge your beauty. You can wait to check your email (or use your smart phone to update your Facebook status to “waiting for my dinosaur of a computer to finish this arduous task”). I highly recommend you don’t run any other programs while Photoshop is merging as it will help the process to end more quickly.

I really wish I had kept my first attempt at this photomerging business because it was flat-out awful. I had photographed my boyfriend in the woods, and because it was so dim, my shutter speed was 1/40s but I moved swiftly regardless. My white balance was also on auto, so the colors were wonky. Oh, and remember when I told you to move your hands and not from your torso? That was a fail, too. Overall, he looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. So I’ll give you my next best…

Meet my boss Doug. He’s the photo of the monstrosity standing on the pitching mound at Citi Field dressed as a New York Met. No, he does not look like this in real life. Unfortunately, when I did this particular photomerge, my shutter speed (1/80s) couldn’t keep up with my hands. My f-stop could have been lower (I had it set at f/7.1), but I wanted to make sure that the stadium behind him was sort of in focus. I wanted the stadium in the picture, but in the end I spent more time photographing the dirt than the sky and the stands. I was standing about 5-7 feet away from my boss which is why there isn’t too much of a fish-eye effect here. The good news? My white balance was set to cloudy. So in this case, I was one for four. Pretty terrible.

I had this great image of my brother standing in the middle of our street with his guitar, and really wanted to make it happen. When I told my brother, he looked at me funny so I had to settle for the front walkway. My f-stop was at 1.8 and my shutter speed was at 1/5000s, both of which were fantastic for a photomerge. Then there’s the white balance. What did I have it set at? Auto. That’s an automatic fail. The picture of Joe came out alright, though. Only a few holes here and there with some massive confusion in the sky. I was standing about 3-4 feet away from my brother when I took this shot which is why everything around him is curving like crazy. I used the “photo the subject first, make arches second” technique, which is good because he decided to strum me a song while I photographed like mad.

Finally! Success! I was the second shooter for Matt at a wedding this past Friday at Coindre Hall in Huntington (beautiful area, and your dog will love it too!). While Matt was photographing the happy couple, I found an area where I wanted to try the photomerge technique I had been working on. I brought them to the space I wanted them and asked them to stay still while I got I photographed from left to right and back again. I was about 8-10 feet away from James and Traci when I started clicking, which is why there really isn’t a fish-eye effect here like there were in the other photos. I was downright meticulous. My camera was at 55mm, my f-stop was at 2.8, my shutter speed was at 1/50s, and my white balance was set to cloudy. I couldn’t have been happier. Except for the giant gaping hole in the tree (which I cloned until I couldn’t see straight), I have to say I’m really quite proud of this picture.

There is a pumpkin patch every year at the local Methodist church, and this Tuesday was the day I stopped wondering what it was like. I brought my camera with me, figuring some photos of the pumpkin patch would be a great Fall post on my Facebook page. I wasn’t wrong, but I was only half successful for this particular photomerging outing. I tried to create 7 photomerges. Only 4 came out, and one of them was a stretch. I thought I’d share my favorite with you. I practically stood on top of these tables covered in wine crates filled with gourds which is why the fish-eye effect here is so extreme. The settings on my camera were at 50mm, f/1.4, a shutter speed of 1/5000s, and a white balance of sunny. All of these pictures were photographed while my camera was in Aperture mode. Next time, I’m going to try setting it to Manual and see if that will help the colors to be more even throughout the photograph.

The scarecrow at the pumpkin patch was a great subject to practice on. I took WAY too many pictures of him and his “patch”; so many that Photoshop kept quitting on me. Well I wasn’t about to give up, so I took half the pictures, merged them together, and saved it as a Photoshop Document (.psd). After I had done that, I took the other half and merged them, saving that one as a .psd as well. Afterwards, I merged them together the same way I had merged the smaller photographs (‘File’, ‘Automate’, ‘Photomerge’). I put pictures of all these steps in the gallery at the bottom of this post.

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you try this method yourself! I’m attaching a video from Adorama’s “How’d They Do That” series. They actually interview Ryan Brenizer himself. Around the 6 minute mark is where he gives the tutorial about the Brenizer Method.

ENJOY! 🙂 And if you try out this method for yourself, you should definitely share your work (success or failure).

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